Basil and Sibyl – 26 More Years!

Before I forget to mention it, it’s our 26th wedding anniversary today. Yes, 26 years since we were first manacled together; 26 years on which to look back and say ‘ah, how we used to laugh! Yes, but not at the same time,’ and other such slogans from the good box. Speaking of which, the daughter gave us a great gift last year of a small box filled with post-it notes, two for each year of our marriage making fifty in all. Each day for the next 25 days we were to write something positive about our relationship and put them in the box to keep. This morning I got it out again and we read through what we’d written. It was very touching, especially this from OH: ‘Sometimes we laugh at the same time.’

Ah, laughing at the same time! I remember that… tonight we’re going somewhere for a meal, either locally or in Leicester depending on the weather. But last night! Oh my god, how much good TV drama is there at the moment? You no sooner finish one series than another pops up. Killing Eve series 2 has begun and Years and Years just keeps on going, in fact the narrative pace is so fast sometimes I wish it’d slow down a bit. But I guess that’s the point; events take over and you can’t keep up with them. The Guardian describes the series as a hybrid of Bread and Black Mirror, which I think is spot-on. In this episode a bad political situation gets exponentially worse; as climate change, bad government and economic collapse combine to produce a nightmarish scenario. No-go zones are created in cities, climate refugees are billeted on those with an extra bedroom (echoes of the Bedroom Tax there) and the daughter fulfils her dream to become a cyber-being creating disturbing and dangerous possibilities akin to having Google installed in your brain. Vivian Rook is now Prime Minister (god, how brilliant is Emma Thompson!) bringing chaos to the heart of government; meanwhile Stephen, whose life has imploded, takes a job with an old ‘friend’ and gets into something deeply dodgy. On the plus side, Muriel’s macular degeneration is cured – but at a price. She can wait three years or spend the grandchildren’s inheritance. No contest, sadly.

Meanwhile back in 2019 reports of summer have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, we’ve had cold and wet Junes before in the UK but this one takes the biscuit. All jumpers put away, all slippers consigned to the cupboard, all heaters put in sheds, all boilers turned off – all this had to be reversed as daytime temperatures plummeted to 9 degrees. Nine! It seems that as well as bringing us June temperatures in February, climate change brings us February temperatures in June.

Bloody nightmare. No wonder I didn’t sleep well.

Kirk out

It Doesn’t Comfrey, You Know

I learned yesterday about a saying in German where if something goes wrong someone will say ‘That wouldn’t have happened if you’d put your glasses on.’ I don’t know what it is in German but it’s good to have a phrase like this which smooths away conflict, a joke which everyone recognises as such and which creates common ground where there might have been argument. This happens in families too: like most families I suspect, we have catch-phrases that have to be said in a given set of circumstances. When coffee grounds spill somebody will always say ‘that’s grounds for divorce!’ and when things go wrong on a Thursday it is compulsory to comment ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’ And on The Simpsons, Homer comes up with the phrase ‘it’s my first day’ which people start using all over the world to justify the most horrendous cock-ups.

So it is inevitable when I tell OH that I’ve spent the afternoon gathering comfrey that I will hear the phrase ‘it doesn’t come free, you know.’ Which is funny but entirely untrue because it is free and it grows all over the place. I now have a bag-full of the stuff which will be melted down – well, left to liquefy anyway – and then added to water to fertilise our plants. Comfrey leaves are high in nitrogen and make an excellent plant food. You can place the leaves round the base of a plant as well if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the liquid.

And that was Monday. It’s bloody wet here, what’s it like where you are?

Kirk out

Come Back Brooker! All is Forbidden

Did I say forbidden? That must have been a Freudian slip. I said some harsh things about Black Mirror the other day and now I have to take them back a bit because, having watched Smithereen, the second episode in series 5, I have completely changed my mind. OH reckons I wasn’t the right demographic for episode one and maybe not, but I still think it was slow and unoriginal. But episode two! Oh my god. Utterly enthralling. I watched it over dinner and when I’d finished I didn’t know where I was. What is this house? What is that garden? Why is there a plate in front of me? Who brought me here when I was just in a car in a field and a mountain-top in Utah? I’m not going to tell you any more about it because you need to watch it for yourself, but Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is utterly terrific as he always is, and you simply could not guess the storyline. The third episode, Rachel Jack and Ashley Too, seems to be aimed at teenage girls which suggests that OH’s theory – each episode being aimed at a particular demographic – could be correct. It stars Miley Cyrus as a manipulated and disaffected teen star whose aunt goes beyond the bounds of controlling relationships to preserve her own personal gold-mine. So all in all I think it’s a good series but not a great one.

At the weekend I went to a meeting on One-Nation Conservatism, a beast which I’d previously thought extinct but which seems to be surviving, albeit mostly in caves under the ground, and OH and I went to see Late Night with Emma Thompson. I’ll say more about this another time but we enjoyed it a lot. Then what with Picnic in the Park being relocated to Fearon Hall and seeing a play at the Swan with friends, it’s been an eventful weekend. I’m still catching up with myself.

So there we have it. I’m sorry Charlie, your first episode did really suck. But boy, you made up for it since.

Kirk out

Uninterested? Not Any More!

You know a word’s in trouble when an otherwise fairly erudite and intelligent writer uses it wrongly, for today this canard cropped up in my daily readings from Richard Rohr, and I put my head in my hands and groaned. It seems almost everyone now uses disinterested to mean bored or uninterested, so that the original sense of the word as defined here – not having a vested interest, being impartial or above debate – is lost. What’s more no-one seems to mind. Not wanting to look like frowsty old professors or grizzled grammar geeks, everyone stands by and allows poor old disinterested to be hacked to pieces. Well, not on this blog! We stand for the fearless protection of words! We will not allow people to tell us they’re ‘good’ when actually they’re ‘fine’ – we will not allow them to say ‘disinterested’ when they mean ‘uninterested’!

But in the end all this is just Canute holding back the tide (although supposedly he did this to demonstrate his lack of power). It’s the Academie Francaise trying to stem the flood of English words by issuing French alternatives and it is doomed. In the end what decides the meaning of words is general usage, and if everyone chooses to redefine disinterested – as I think they already have – as uninterested then that is what it now means.

Thankfully though, Peterborough has not been redefined as Brexit city; Labour won by six hundred or so votes. Phew!

Kirk out

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Lesbian

A bit of a TV mop-up, this post because good golly and gosh there’s so much excellent drama on, I can hardly keep up. Let’s begin with the preposterous Gentleman Jack. I nearly turned this off half-way through the first episode because of its very preposterousness – social attitudes being much too modern for the Regency setting – but something kept me watching and I’m glad I did. Half Fleabag, half Tipping the Velvet, our protagonist knows exactly what she wants and goes all out to get it: ‘I fully intend to live with someone I love,’ she declares and sets her life on a headlong and dangerous path which may end in death and which has already caused great heartache. As The Well of Loneliness shows, betrayal is double when you cannot come out as gay and your lover not only abandons you but abandons their true nature to marry one of the opposite sex. The period is Jane Austen but this could hardly be less Austinian; it’s Moll Flanders with a title, some land with coal under it and an appetite for women. It’s a highly enjoyable romp which may yet end in tragedy.

By contrast the manners of Summer of Rockets were completely true to the period, showing the excessive politeness and reserve of the English upper-classes through the eyes of a Russian emigre aspiring to join them. It’s the ‘fifties with the Cold War as a backdrop and to test his loyalty Petrukin is recruited to spy on his new friends. It turns out that they are conspiring to stage what is essentially a fascist coup to preserve the Empire and presumably all who sail in her; Timothy Spall is excellent as the corrupt aristocrat at the heart of this conspiracy but the real star is Keeley Hawes, an MP’s wife confined to staging parties but finally waking up to what her husband is really up to and becoming, you might say, politically engaged. It’s also the last year that debutantes are presented to the Queen and we see Petrukin’s daughter resisting this absurdity and walking out of a ceremony where all the befrocked and begloved debs have to curtsey to a cake (a cake!) big enough to feed all Marie Antionette’s unfortunate contemporaries.

I haven’t begun to do that justice so go and watch while it’s still on iplayer. But sadly over on Netflix the first episode of Black Mirror proved a real let-down. I had high hopes of this as I’ve enjoyed nearly all the rest (I wasn’t a fan of Bandersnatch but only because I don’t like multiple-choice viewing). But Striking Vipers seemed not only unoriginal but horribly slow. Yes, it had an all-black cast so kudos for that (if we still need to give these things kudos) but otherwise it took ages to get anywhere and seemed basically a rehash of San Junipero. Not good. Still I will watch the rest and give it the benefit of the doubt, as Nicholas Parsons so often does with his contestants. Here‘s a review by someone who’s watched the whole series.

And that’s us up to date.

Kirk out

Years and Years and Years and Years

Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more TV drama quite as good as the series you’ve finished watching (and yes I know Killing Eve is coming back but you’d have to be under a rock not to know that) along comes Russell T Davies to knock you off your feet and turn you upside down and spin you round and round. Years and Years is quite simply astonishing drama. A pinch of Black Mirror, a dash of The Thick of It and oodles of what can only be called Russell-T-Daviesness, that unique quality that he brought to Dr Who and now splashes all over this slightly futuristic drama, make this highly watchable. Emma Thompson plays against type as a nasty Katie Hopkins-ish politician, part of the political backdrop to the story of the Lyons (definitely a reference there) an extended family including a left-wing political activist, a politically naive and rather annoying wheelchair-user (good to see him casting against the usual angelic type there) and a housing worker who falls in love with a Ukrainian guy. These stories of gay love, deportation, exploitation, technology and Trumpian politics take place against the backdrop of a banking crash which propels the father (Rory Kinnear) from rich householder to cycle courier forced to decamp with his family to his mother’s (Anne Reid) huge house. Two storylines culminate in a devastating denouement in episode 4 – and it’s not over yet! There are two more episodes and since they haven’t put this up as a box set we’ll have to wait. As God intended. And quite right too.

Back in what we are pleased to call the real world, the Queen must be having interesting times trying to make conversation with You Know Who. This Tangerine Nightmare is the last person anyone wants over here (except Boris – but did you see that embarrassing video they posted on Big Ben?) but he doesn’t have the sense he was born with. If you really want to take over the NHS the last thing you should do is tell everyone. Perhaps now people will wake up to what the real Brexit game is.

Kirk out

The Four Stages of Creativity

My copy of Mslexia magazine arrived today, another issue in which I have unaccountably failed to appear. I haven’t been entirely unsuccessful with them; a couple of years ago they published a poem of mine and a year before that I was their guest blogger on the theme of gender issues, so I thought I had a good chance with this issue as the theme was ‘Clothes’ and I had a short story and two poems on exactly that theme all raring to go out into the world and seek their fortune. Sadly in their infinite wisdom Mslexia declined to publish. Hey ho.

But it set me thinking about the different stages of writing, particularly writing short stories. These stages are analogous to growing veg: the first, the seed stage, is the idea. It may be a wild one, blown on the winds and self-seeded in rough soil, or it may be deliberately planted from a packet. At this stage you have an image of how it may turn out but whether or not it does what it says on the tin remains to be seen. Out of this idea comes a rough draft like a pair of leaves poking through the soil and at this stage it’s very hard to see what the story will become. But when it grows a little more, when the leaves assume distinctive shapes and the stem grows tall or winds in spirals or becomes short and stout, you begin to discern the shape. Aha! You think, I know just what to do with you! This leads on to the lengthiest stage of all, the editing, the rewriting, the pruning and weeding and feeding, until the plant reaches its full height after which, eventually, it will begin to bear fruit. At this stage the work is sent out into the big wide world with a hanky on a stick to seek its fortune.

Just as with gardening, the goal is to have pieces of work at each stage; ideas, drafts, stories in progress and work ready to send off. Writing’s just gardening really, when you think about it. Makes me feel like Peter Sellers in Being There.

Kirk out

It’s Enough to Make You Switch to Blogger

I’m really not happy with WordPress at the moment. I just this minute wrote a couple of paragraphs on gardening and clicked on something (I don’t know what) which took me off the page. When I came back it’d lost the entire post. It used to have a little bar up the top to continue editing but that seems to have gone – in fact all in all I’m having so many problems I’m thinking of switching to something else. Like Blogger, for instance. Those of you who use Blogger, how do you find it? Is it easy to use? Would it be suitable for a blog like mine? And if I switched, how would I redirect users? I don’t want my readers and followers to lose me.

Anyway, where was I? That’s right, I was in the garden, taking a jaundiced view of things. And why? Because the soil is clearly lacking in nitrogen, causing some plants – particularly basil and chilli peppers – to become yellow. So off I popped to the garden centre (well, Wilko’s anyway) and bought some plant food high in nitrogen and showered the plants with the good stuff. It was interesting to watch the basil change, the green filtering through the central vein and then the peripheral veins and finally to the outer lobes. I think we’re getting there anyway, things are looking healthier. Wish I could say the same for WordPress – they seem determined to push me into paying for a site but I’m digging my heels in.

But my favourite thing in the garden right now is a single California poppy, a splash of orange in a sea of green (and yellow.)

Kirk out